SUNDAY’S READINGS | November 7, 2021
The Word of the Lord came to the prophet Elijah in a time of great famine, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you” (1 Kgs. 17:9). The prophet had already drawn water from the Wadi Cherith and eaten bread and meat delivered morning and night by ministering ravens. He knew that with God all things are possible precisely when they seem impossible. When all hope is lost, hope is not lost.
Trusting the command of the Lord, the prophet goes to the gate of the town, sees a widow gathering sticks, and dares to ask of her, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink” (1 Kgs. 17:10). Even in her desperation, she goes to bring it, sensing perhaps that in sharing a cup of cool water, she will not lose her reward (Mark 9:41). But the prophet presses her for more: “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand” (1 Kgs. 17:11). Asked to relinquish the little she has, her heart sinks, and we, observing her condition, feel for her plight. She says, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kgs. 17:12). This is to be her last supper, her last meal with her son, sustenance enough to await the cruel hour of death.
She is without hope. In this moment the prophet offers the assurance of a miracle and plenty as the fruit of sacrificial sharing. It is as if the woman, in fidelity to the prophet’s words, prepares her little bread, takes it, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it away for the life of a world bigger than herself and her son and her household. Giving in this way, a giving that only God can inspire, her jar of meal and her jug of oil remain until the day when the rains return.
The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath has been used and is still used, no doubt, by unscrupulous purveyors of a false gospel, hucksters who devour widows’ houses for their personal comfort and gain (Mark 12:40). Those who rob the poor to support “their ministry” receive the solemn promise of the greater condemnation. However, the prophet of God is not stealing, thus worsening the plight of the woman. He bears the authority of a promise: “The jar of meal will not be emptied, and the jug of oil will not fail” (1 Kgs. 17:14). And his promise is true. We see here the poverty of which Jesus often speaks. “Blessed are the poor.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Need opens the door of the heart before which Jesus stands and knocks. Human emptiness awaits all the fullness of God.
The God of justice gives justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to prisoners, sight to the blind, dignity to those who are bowed down. God cares for the stranger, sustains the orphan and widow (Ps. 146:6-8). God shows compassion, and that compassion is most welcome when we feel and know the depth of our own poverty.
In our need, God asks for something, a morsel of bread, a mere crumb of faith, not to deprive us, but to end the lonely night of famine and to give us bread from heaven.
Look It Up: Mark 4:44
Think About It: Faith comes not from your abundance but your poverty.